These days, there are several buzz-words flying through the sports world.
Two of the more prominent seem to be players and coaches talking about “the process,” and it’s time for teams and players “to be engaged.”
For now, the Arizona Coyotes appear to reference “engage,” and that’s in an attempt to jump-start their season.
As the NHL turns the quarter-pole of this season, the Coyotes are one of the more disappointing teams. Energized by a young and assertive general manager in John Chayka, a well-deserved promotion of head coach Dave Tippet to remain as coach and now Vice President of hockey operations and a willingness to open their checkbook, many believed the Coyotes made important steps forward over the recent offseason.
Yet, reality dominated perception for the Coyotes who have clearly fallen on hard times.
Coming into their home game Saturday against Nashville, Arizona and Colorado each have 21 standing points and that’s the least in the NHL. As well, the Coyotes have lost six straight, and that stands as the current longest losing streak in the league.
Goal production is down and that’s another reason for the team’s decline. Coming into Saturday’s Nashville game, the Coyotes scored 58 goals in 26 games. Only the Sabres with 55 and the Avs with 56 scored fewer goals.
“Before (Thursday’s loss to Calgary), we talked about being engaged,” goalie Mike Smith told The Hockey Writers. “Everyone needs to be on the same page, and we need to have more fight.”
Low scoring tends to lead to greater shot totals for the opposition. In recent weeks, that’s what happened to the Coyotes. Their inability to quickly and efficiently get the puck out of their end has titled the rink to the opposition. Smith continues to face a barrage of 40 shots or more during a routine game.
Against the Flames Thursday night, the effort was better and stronger. Just 12 minutes into the contest, the Coyotes outshot Calgary, 7-2, but lapses in their play developed. Smith was called upon to make a game-changing save on Mark Giordano midway through the second period and robbed Alex Chiasson with a quick glove save late in the middle session. For the game, the Flames outshot the Coyotes, 35-28.
To exacerbate the club’s woes, several contributors from last season have not equaled nor raised the level of their play. One, in particular, is forward Anthony Duclair. With a 44-point season a year ago (20 goals, 24 assists), he’s clearly missing in action. Through his first 26 games this season, Duclair has one goal and three assists.
Time For Duclair To Catch Fire
To ignite a fire, Tippett changed lines for the Flames’ game. Here, he put Duclair, remaining on right wing, with Martin Hanzal at center and Tobias Rieder on the left side. When that did little, Duclair was benched through parts of the Calgary game. For the 60 minutes of regulation and one minute and nine seconds of overtime, Duclair skated just 8:21 in the game and recorded one shot on net.
“(Duclair) has to compete harder,” said Tippett. “He’s not at the level where he needs to be. We’re trying certain things to get him going.”
Given Duclair’s speed and natural goal-scoring ability, the Coyotes hope he can break out of his doldrums quickly, and help ignite a team in desperate need of an eruption.
Mark Brown is a former sports editor for daily newspapers in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati markets. He was named Best Sports Columnist, honorable mention 2004 by the Associated Press Society of Ohio. He is a contributor to major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Milwaukee Journal, Arizona Republic, Nashville Tennessean and the Associated Press. He was a Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and covered the Arizona Coyotes.